Barely a day goes by when you switch on your computer, plug into the web and come across yet another deranged scheme to restrict freedom in the name of security, safety or morality. RIAA, DMCA, RIPA, Pallidium computing, the list almost seems to grow exponentially. So, some guys got together in a dark room, brainstormed and came up with yet another ruse to curtail access to and use of the internet. Relax, this one won't fly. Trust me. But the sheer audacity of it! Even the bovine docility of Windows users wouldn't stomach this one (or would they?)--and here's the irony.
The biggest science story to hit the mainstream media in the last year was of course the big switch on at CERN. What made it such a great story for me was not just the sheer and audacious enormity of the enterprise or the humbling nobility of the colossal experiment but the story behind the story. That story was the absolutely central role of free software philosophy at the heart of everything CERN was (and is) doing. Despite the false start, CERN's search for the Higgs Boson has got into its stride. The same cannot be said for the car crash that is climate science, which may have inflicted terminal damage on the reputation of science. I believe the rigorous application of free software methodology in conjunction with the Fourth Paradigm may save it.
At the Gran Canaria Open Desktop Summit in July 2009, the Open-PC project was announced. The statement said the project aimed to "cooperatively design a Free Software based computer by and for the community". Further this PC would use only hardware for which there are free software drivers available. This would be a PC with the minimal compromise required for running a free desktop. In January 2010 the project announced the launch of its first product.
When Google announced their ChromeOS there was a flurry of comment and opinion on what this could mean for the GNU/Linux user and the future of free software. Our esteemed editor, Tony Mobily made a bold statement (albeit framed as a question) at the time that Google's ChromeOS could turn GNU/Linux into a "desktop winner". I'm not sure that it's true.
Whatever happens of course the fact is that when somebody of Google's size and impact enters a market, there will be winners and losers, losses and gains. Now that the dust has well and truly settled let's have another look at the potential impact of ChromeOS.
How do you deal with an entrenched content industry that tries to pump its twisted values down your throat with ludicrously illogical emotional appeals? Well, one way is to fight fire with fire by making your own emotional appeals, and trust to the viral amplification of free culture distribution to get the message out. This is the essence of the "minute meme" idea from Question Copyright, and animator Nina Paley has fired the first volley with her one-minute animation "Copying Is Not Theft."
Nina Paley's "Sita Sings the Blues" is becoming a huge critical success, and may even succeed financially, which is unusual for any independent film, but virtually unprecedented for free culture films ("Sita" was released under the CC By-SA). There's only one sad thing about this for free software fans, and that's that "Sita" was made using proprietary software, and the "source code" is in a proprietary format: Adobe Flash's "FLA" format, to be precise. Paley has posted these files on the Internet Archive, but she doesn't know how to translate them into any free software friendly format (and neither do I). Can you help?
This is an aspect of FOSS that is regaining some measure of interest: for years, it was considered that writing production-ready FOSS meant lean and mean software. However, recent events have shown that, in the case of the Linux kernel, this is no longer exactly true: performance is dropping slowly yet steadily.
Oh dear. After the debacle with Microsoft Poland's apparent racist photoshopping, Microsoft China went and got the company in hot water for allegedly "stealing" code. Yes you read that right: Microsoft and wholesale "theft" of code from another website. Of course it's not "theft" it's copyright infringement but tomayto/tomarto. Microsoft confessed blaming a vendor they had worked with. No surprise really but the damage to their name may have already been done. There's more to discuss here than Microsoft's already tarnished reputation though. The issue raises some important points in favour of free software and points to why more if not all code should benefit from free licencing.
The significant thing about Chrome is that it sets a new way of thinking. It does not mean Chrome will dominate the world. Open standards mean that other companies could provide similar services. It's the 80% scenario. 80% of what we do could be web based and probably will be in the future. It is near 100% for 80% of the population. It does not then make much sense to have everyone running a desktop OS just in case they might happen to want a specialist application that is dependent on that technology. Some people will still need this, but not the majority.
This is not the place to debate the immense subject of climate science but it is necessary to say something about "climategate" in order to explain what happens when scientists and politicians collude to distort, hide and even destroy critical (raw) data and methodologies which, unlike the output of CERN, have absolutely colossal financial implications for every man, woman and child on this planet.
The article "Google Chrome OS. Or, how KDE and GNOME managed to shoot each other dead" is intentionally outspoken and controversial. It invites comment and criticism - one can hardly declare two of the best known and most widely used Free Software projects to be "dead" without causing uproar.
A key part of the author's argument is that Google Chrome OS is likely to be both valuable to the public, and also very widely used. I'd like to contest the first part of this assumption.
A lot of people at the moment are immensely intrigued by Google Chrome OS. I won't hide that I am one of them. Google promises a much needed shift in the way small computers work. Problems like software updates, backups, installation, maintenance, viruses, have plagued the world for too long: a shift is way overdue. To me, however, the change about to happen shows us what many people have refused to believe for a long time: KDE and GNOME shot each other dead. I write this knowing full well that I am going to make a lot of people angry. This might be the first time a writer receives very angry responses from both camps -- KDE and GNOME's users might actually (finally?) join arms and fight just to show everybody how wrong I am!
Thanks to Sam Tuke for a well-written and constructive response to my article Is free software major league or minor?. Tuke refers to my post as a "dismissal" of free software, however, which is ironic at best. There is no such dismissal in my article. Instead, there is a challenge: "Can we raise our game?" Furthermore, I would argue that classifying that challenge as a "dismissal" stems from a fundamental lack of faith in our ability to succeed -- which is ironically, the accusation Tuke levels at me. Where does this disconnect happen?
There are many "theoretical" talks about how free software can be used commercially, that it can greatly stimulate business activity and so on. There are very few real life examples of that. And most of them, as I can see, firstly had just common classical proprietary model of software development and only later some of them either freed their products or at least opened. As I can understand, only after fear of competition had gone they tried to made timid steps to open-source (as nearly none of them really understand difference between open-source and free software
A couple of stories have hit the headlines this year concerning the huge cost that some UK Local Governments incurred when dealing with malware attack on their Windows machines. If you missed them, Manchester City Council had a single USB infected with the infamous Conficker worm and it cost them -- brace yourself -- £1.5m (US$2.4m) of which £1.2m (US$1.9m) was spent on IT, of which a staggering £600,000 (US$980k) went on consultancy fees including money to Microsoft. A while later, Ealing Borough Council were hit with a cost of £500000 (about US$800k) when they were also hit by a single USB stick containing conficker. Some in the industry tweeted and blogged this as being a "hidden cost of using Microsoft Windows". In the ensuing discussion, many pointed out that the high cost was really due to the lack of a proper patching and disaster recovery policy at the council. So which is right? Is dealing with malware a hidden cost of using Windows or of a poor IT strategy?
"Sita Sings The Blues" by self-taught animator Nina Paley, may be the first feature-length animated film released under a free license (the Creative Commons By-SA). Presented through a variety of animation styles and narrative tones, it fuses apparently disparate ideas and sources into a unified whole. An ancient Hindu epic, The Ramayana, is retold largely through the songs of a 1920s American singer, Annette Hanshaw. The mode of storytelling also mirrors aspects of the world-wide collaborative potential of twenty-first century art, reflected also in the film's real life controversies, including copyright entanglements and censorship concerns.
I just read Terry Hancock's artilce on Is free software major league or minor?. Great article, and I'm very glad to see articulate discussion about these core subjects. Not enough is said about these matters.
However, I disagree strongly on several points that your article raises. I'll take it point by point in an effort to not misrepresent your views and keep focussed on the statements that you have made.
It can be hard to get paid for producing free-licensed works. Software represents a niche where a lot of exceptions can be found, but for aesthetic works, the problem is severe. This has spurred a lot of innovative ideas for better incentive systems. Along the way, though, the most obvious and simple solution has mostly been overlooked: just re-implement the traditional limited copyright idea in a way that makes sense for the 21st century. Here's a simple solution that I call "FLOW-IT" for "Free Licensing Of Works -- In Time," which simply leverages existing Creative Commons licensing to do the job.
Like many free software users, I am greatly encouraged by the number of mobile phones that are starting to come out running some form of embedded Linux-based OS. Nokia's Maemo and Palm's webOS are shaping up and it seems every day we hear of yet another Android device. All of this is good news, but just how useful are these free software phones to the free software lover? Not as much as they could be it seems.